The Vanquished

Written by Robert Gerwarth



I started reading this book last month, and it was the sort of non-fiction book that made me want to read a pulpy fiction book at the same time.  I took a trip to Barnes & Noble to get book number 2 in Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series and walked out $100 lighter.  Always a hazard in my world.  This book was so very dry that I actually started reading three other books since I started it.

What It’s About

The Vanquished explores the time between World War I and World War II.  Gerwath argues that the first World War shook social norms and that the punitive treaties which ended the war created a series of regional conflicts that culminated in the second World War.  The book explores the breakup of the various empires that made up the Axis powers and the evolution of socialism and fascism throughout Europe

The Good

The interwar period was clearly historically pivotal, but here in the U.S., we tend to gloss over it in History class (if we make it there at all).  It was interesting to read how large, ethnically diverse empires like Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire broke up, and what happened in the smaller resulting countries.  It was fascinating and horrifying to read about the wars for territory, the beginnings of later ethnic cleansing, and the roots current problems in the Middle East.

Gerwarth has clearly researched his subject matter.  He presents convincing, significant facts, dates, and names to back up his theory that war never really ended in the interwar period.

The Not-So-Good

Gerwath is prone to long, complicated, academic sentences. This read like a textbook from High School – full of names and dates and events, but few stories. He jumped around a bit, and didn’t flesh everything out to the same level of completeness.   As an example, he Gerwarth mentions early on that he believes that the Irish revolution has its roots in World War I.  And then he never mentions Ireland again.  You can tell that there are parts of this history with which he is more familiar than others, and that leaves you with more questions than answers.

And, just to nitpick (because why not?), his argument is that Europe went from a long period of peace prior to World War I into a few decades of regional warfare that culminated in World War II.  But, again and again he references earlier unresolved local conflicts that rear up again when territories reorganize in the interwar period.  Was it really the peaceful idyll he references?  Not hardly.

Final Thoughts

This is a very thorough book about a pivotal time in history.  The content is well researched and well organized.  I was fascinated by the European view of a period that Americans tend to skip over in History class.

This book is a bit dry, though I have read drier.  Gerwarth does a good job of organizing the book to make it more accessible.  If you’re at all interested in this type of thing, this is an interesting book to read.